A new exhibit at the Museum of Industry in Stellarton examines a dark chapter in Canadian history when 907 passengers were denied a last chance for a safe haven from war and genocide.
The temporary exhibit, St. Louis: Ship of Fate, tells the story of the tragic voyage of the last large group of Jewish refugees to leave Nazi Germany. The exhibit will be at the museum until Jan. 31.
“People need to understand the roots of anti-Semitism and grasp the concept that anti-Semitism happened very close to home on an unimaginable scale,” said Communities, Culture and Heritage Minister Tony Ince. “It is my hope that the exhibit will be a learning opportunity for Nova Scotians and Canadians, so that we can reflect on our past and move forward, appreciating the many cultures that make up our province.”
The touring exhibit focuses on the importance of human rights and the tragic realities of the little-known role Canada played in the event.
“This exhibit awakens visitors to a dark chapter in our nation’s past, but also, perhaps more importantly, to the fact that prejudice has real consequences, whether it takes the extreme form of the horrible acts of the Nazis, or Canada’s more passive inaction to protect those most threatened,” said Museum of Industry director Debra McNabb.
In May 1939, St. Louis, a luxury liner in the Hamburg-America line, left Germany for Cuba. The original 936 German Jewish passengers thought they were escaping from the dangers of the Nazi regime. Cuba broke its promise of refuge and the United States denied the ship entry. No Caribbean, Central or South American nation would open its doors and Canada was the last hope for the passengers, who faced a return to Europe.
Canada too denied entry. Belgium, Holland, France and Britain eventually granted refuge to the passengers, but three of those nations were soon overrun by the war. Two-hundred and fifty-four St. Louis passengers died in Nazi death camps.
The exhibit uses traditional display panels and interactive touchscreen kiosks. Particular attention is paid to the effort of some Canadians, and the refusal by the government, to save the passengers.
St. Louis: Ship of Fate was created by the Atlantic Jewish Council and Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, part of the Nova Scotia Museum. The tour is supported by Citizen and Immigration Canada’s Community Historical Recognition Program.